People who are able to discern facts are necessary for preserving a stable society.
In a recent post I mentioned the unreliable method for determining “one’s own facts” by collecting common strands from published opinions and arriving at a truth one can feel comfortable with. Four years ago we were introduced to the term “alternative facts,” which always reminds me of the quote that one is entitled to one’s own opinion, but not one’s own facts.
This topic of fact v. opinion stems from an experience I had a few weeks into covid last year when someone said he just didn’t know who or what to believe. I was fairly certain that Dr. Fauci was our best option, especially when the other mouthpiece was the most recent past-president. Volume and repetition are not measurements of truth, but my friend assured me that while Dr. Fauci probably knows a few things, he felt safer by consulting “many sources” for information before “deciding what is true.”
Some of the so-called facts that he shared with me contained pieces of several conspiracy theories, and I expressed my opinion that he reconsider his sources. Perhaps the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization are more reliable sources on virology than Stella Immanuel wearing a white coat and standing in the most public of public squares like a modern-day snake oil salesperson.
My friend caused me to think about where we get our information. When someone says they consult multiple sources, what exactly are those sources? Wall Street Journal? New York Times? The Guardian? PBS NewsHour? 60 Minutes? Reuters? Fox News? Breitbart? Perhaps someone trusts an individual with a smartphone who can post a poor quality video to a sloppy website, or is Cousin Wanda’s neighbor’s dog-groomer who spends hours searching for like-minded people on social media the oracle? Some of the sources on this list are outrageous, and depending on your political views, you’ve just decried at least three of them as fake news.
Because we’ve become lax and forgotten the difference between fact and propaganda, every end of the political spectrum has demonized the other. There is no middle of the road any longer, but iff your so-called facts go beyond what a filmmaker thinks an audience would find plausible (i.e. Jewish space lasers), it’s time to get your head examined.
For reasons that it takes too long to explain, I’ll just state that I was in a position ten years ago to give the occasional tour of the official residence of the Mayor of Los Angeles. As part of a civics education program, school children were offered the opportunity to tour the mansion’s public rooms and ask questions. The usual questions included an interest in secret panels. We had two. Secret rooms? Not since the end of Prohibition. One day while crowded into the kitchen, a boy about ten years old raised his hand and asked me if we had an escape plan for the zombie apocalypse. Not A zombie apocalypse, but THE zombie apocalypse.
I couldn’t help but laugh, but quickly realized that this was not a joke question. This child truly believed that zombies could rise and come after the mayor. There were probably two teachers and four chaperones in the room, and my eyes darted to all of the adults, hoping to get some support. No one said a word or indicated that I didn’t have to answer this question as though the possibility were as likely as someone crashing their car into the security gate. Not one person said, “Algernon, let’s not waste time with this zombie nonsense.” His far-fetched notions were being silently validated, as surely they had been previously.
It was clear that I couldn’t proceed without providing some sort of answer. There was a quick debate taking place in my head: Do I assure him that we believe in zombies and have a plan, or do I dissuade him of the notion and be the one who finally levels with him? I thought of saying that as far as the undead goes, I prefer elegant vampires to sloppy old zombies, but realized that if they believed in zombies, they would believe in vampires.
I finally said that I had never considered the possibility of zombies and highly doubted the situation would come to that, but that security had a safe room, a hotline for help, and a landing pad should we need to be airlifted in case of any real emergency. My answer was completely true and seemed to satisfy the boy without having to add, “And you need help.”
A decade has passed and zombies aren’t a threat as much as the throngs who are awaiting The Storm and The Great Awakening like Linus in the pumpkin patch. (Why are the gullible always waiting for something connected to a large orange head?)
People are entitled to form opinions; it’s what we do. But we have to remember that opinions are emotional; facts do not require our feelings to validate them. We might believe that a former lower-level White House staffer is a vain, empty-headed bigot, but that’s our opinion. Perhaps there is information that the person has said or done things to make us believe it, but our opinion is not fact. There may come a day when the proof is indisputable, but until we reach that point we are dealing with opinion.
A Satanic cabal of blood-drinking government officials that are going to be taken down as explained in coded messages from the greatest liar to ever hold the highest office in the USA? When was that vile, narcissistic fascist ever going to get around to taking down the cabal? When his golf game improved? When he finally decided to come to work? As he flew away from the White House?
Some people argue that these malicious January 6 insurrectionists were victims and don’t deserve prosecution, but unless you are drooling from insanity, there’s an easy way to tell if your side has gone off the rails.
Let’s consider Nazis. Their views have no place in any society on the planet. Period. No discussion. If you find yourself standing on a street corner, sitting at a bar, attending the same picnic, or enjoying a parade with one or more persons wearing a t-shirt celebrating the Holocaust, you need to get the hell out of there. If you think that person might have a good point or a manifesto that you’d like to consider, you are on the wrong side. If you happen to notice that some of your opinions overlap with what Nazis espouse or that you are still a registered member of the political party that doesn’t disavow Qanon and white supremacy groups, remember that old saying about looking like, walking like, and hanging out with ducks.
I recently wrote about the need for quality education for all and cultural literacy. Without these two necessary ingredients, how can anyone read with comprehension and develop critical thinking skills? Without critical thinking skills, how can we discern facts and, as I wrote in the first line of this article, preserve stability in our society?
© 2021 by Patrick Brown